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Truth a valid defence of contempt

The editorial, Jail for journalists: Use contempt sparingly (Sept 24) was timely. The controversy over the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, has been raging for quite some time. The Supreme Court’s stay on the conviction of the journalists notwithstanding, the Delhi High Court’s refusal to examine the truth as a valid defence of contempt has invited severe criticism.

The moot point is: can the truth of the statement made by Mid-day journalists and bona fide belief that the statement was true, even if finally didn’t turn out to be true, is a defence in any contempt proceedings?

Laying down procedure to deal with contempt cases, courts should not readily infer an intention to scandalise courts or lower the authority of judges unless such intention is clearly established. Nor should they exercise the power to punish for contempt where a mere question of propriety is involved.

Under Article 215 of the Constitution, the High Court is empowered only to deal with contempt of itself while it can handle contempt of subordinate courts having no jurisdiction to initiate action or punish anyone for contempt of the Supreme Court under Article 129.

The media, print and electronic, has every right under Article 19 (1) (a) to criticise judges on facts based on truth. Hence, jurisdiction in contempt is not to be invoked unless there is real abuse which is nothing but substantial interference with due process of justice.

UMED SINGH GULIA, Advocate (Supreme Court), Faridabad


 

II

The Delhi High Court’s conviction of the journalists, since stayed by the Supreme Court, is an exercise of the inherent constitutional powers of contempt sans proper safeguards by the higher judiciary. No doubt, the relevant statute, i.e. the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 has been amended last year providing truth as a ground of defence. But the constitutional provisions remain unamended.

Whereas Article 19 (1) (a) guarantees to all citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression, Article 19 (2) imposes reasonable restrictions. The Contempt law derives its origin from Art 19 (2). The National Commission to Review the Working of Constitution took note of this and recommended that a mere legislation by Parliament amending the Contempt of Court statute providing truth as defence is not enough but a proviso also needs to be added to Article 19 (2) to this effect. Though Parliament has amended the relevant statute, it has not dared to amend the constitutional provisions.

In any case, the Supreme Court is seized of the matter. There is need for judicial reforms to protect the judiciary’s image.

HEMANT KUMAR, Advocate (Punjab and Haryana High Court), Ambala City

Caste identity

The editorial, Caste matters: Provide everyone a level-playing field (Sept 19) rightly points out: “However pragmatic and commendable the apex court's decision may be, it is not a justification for retaining the caste system in society”. In the admission forms to various classes in schools and colleges, there is a column where an SC/ST or OBC student has to mention his/her caste. They are also required to append the caste certificate issued by a competent authority.

The schools may not insist on knowing a student’s caste and the column may be removed from the forms. But how will students of these castes seek the benefit of reservation without producing the relevance certificate?

IQBAL SINGH, Bijhari (Hamirpur)

Criteria for nursery admissions

The Delhi government has decided that the formal school education for children will start only at the age of four. However, there can be one year of education before Class I, the pre-primary class. For Class I, the child has to be five years old as on March 31 of the year admission is sought.

In the new pre-primary school class, the nursery class will not be considered as feeder for the main school. Thus, the parents will have to go through the rigorous admission procedure once again. The Delhi government has filed an affidavit in the Delhi High Court. The government has retained the ban on interviews and the process of admission will be transparent.

Schools will admit children on the basis of parameters conducive to them. One can do it on the basis of the neighbourhood policy or can give preference to siblings or kids of alumni. The criteria need not be common and the same calendar has to be followed.

The Delhi school authorities have objected to the Ganguly Committee report’s 100 points for nursery admission. The suggested criteria such as living in the neighbourhood, siblings, alumni, preference to graduate parents, girl child, etc, do not evaluate the child’s merit as it concerns specifically the prejudices in nursery admission as exposed by the Ganguly Committee.

SONALI BHARGAVA, New Delhi


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